Last week an interesting email popped into my inbox. It was an invitation to join a group of Lensbaby Artists and be part of Lensbaby’s Challenge Playbook, a series of photographic projects for us to pick and choose from and shoot at our leisure. The challenges are all quite flexible and as I read through the Playbook I realised that most of them inspire me. Some of them will certainly challenge me, but that’s a good thing. It’s easy to slip into a habit of shooting the same things with same lenses and I don’t feel like I’ve pushed myself much recently.

Challenge 1 seemed a good place to start but it’s a good job that I’m able to laugh at myself… The first challenge is all about sharing our journey, from our first Lensbaby shots to our more recent work. So that newer Lensbaby photographers can see the progression and realise that it’s OK to not be great in the beginning and that perseverance, trial and error, and lots of failures make us much stronger photographers.

Looking back I realised that I got my first Lensbaby in May 2010, a composer with a double glass optic. All of the older images I share were taken within the first two months of Lensbaby ownership. In May 2010 I was a very different person to who I am now, I worked as a Financial Controller (although I’d always had a feeling I was supposed to be doing something different) and I wasn’t in the tiniest bit creative. I’d only been interested in photography for around 12 months, I was keen to learn but I think it’s safe to say my lack of creativity really showed in my photos!

The very first Lensbaby image I have stored on my computer is definitely one of the first I took, I remember standing in the kitchen with my new toy and looking around for something to try it out on…

Two shoes Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

The focus is a little odd, I’m not sure I intended to focus on the furthest shoe, but this isn’t as terrible as I expected. As a contrast below is one of my images shot this week with the Velvet 85.

Wilted roses in vase Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

And if that very first image wasn’t as bad as I expected it was followed by some absolute shockers…

Blossoming tree in front of houses with red doors Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

River Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

And this one, why on earth? I mean really, why did I take this, what on earth appealed about this scene!! I’d like to say it was just focus practice but I went to the trouble of giving it a title and saving it all these years. “Bucket and Sponge” if you were wondering. Remember I explained I was an accountant and not creative?

Sponge and bucket Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

I really can’t stop laughing at that.

Or this one, taken at Salford Quays which is such a fantastic area for photography.

Salford Quays Steps Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

I went soon after I got my Lensbaby and was somehow strangely drawn to the concrete steps and managed somehow to take a terrible photo of the bridge that is really difficult to take a terrible photo of!

Bridge black and white Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

And the same bridge taken in 2017 when I was trying out the Velvet 56. In the interim I’ve obviously learned a lot about composition, I can’t imagine why I didn’t think to change my position back in 2010.

Bridge Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

And a couple more embarrassingly boring shots from May 2010.

Two socks Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

Coffee mug Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

Do you remember slider phones? At least I can claim that one has some historical significance! Although my approach to photographing cups with objects has definitely become much more creative, this one was taken with the Sol 45 in January 2019.

Coffee beans and wooden figure Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

Later in May of 2010 I took my new Lensbaby off to Morecambe for some more practice and some of the shots I took on that visit aren’t quite as embarrassing as the ones from Salford Quays.

three old ladies on a bench Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

Bike black and white Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

Small hut on the coast Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

I shot the same building again in 2017 with the Edge 50, it’s interesting to see how differently I now compose an image.

Small hut on the coast Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

I found a few other subjects from those first weeks with my Lensbaby that I’ve repeated more recently:

Bleeding Hearts, May 2010 and then two from April 2017 with the Twist 60:

Bleeding Hearts flowers Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

Bleeding Hearts flowers Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

Bleeding Hearts flowers Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

Cow Parsley, June 2010 then 2017 with the Velvet 85

Cow Parsley Flowers Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

Cow Parsley Flowers Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

And flowers indoors, May 2010 followed by the Sweet 80 with macro filters in 2018.

Purple Flower Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

Purple Flower Lensbaby Creators Janet Broughton

I’ve missed out a great chunk of my own journey in this post, I used my Lensbaby very little between 2012 and 2015 (a period when I was shooting little other than portraits). I started to use them a little more often in 2016 and then by 2017 the Lensbaby bug had well and truly bitten!

Whenever I talk to people about using Lensbaby optics and lenses I always stress that simply putting a Lensbaby on your camera will not instantly transform you into a better photographer. A boring picture will still be boring with a Lensbaby, it’ll just have a bit of blur added. I think it’s safe to say that I proved that point with some of my first images!

Becoming a better Lensbaby photographer requires more than just mastering the skills specific to a Lensbaby (manual focus, placing the sweet spot etc) you also need to understand exposure and light and work on your composition and editing skills. And then you need to let go of the rules you’ve learned, as well as the need for technical perfection, and that’s when you’ll really start to become a better Lensbaby photographer.

The best piece of advice I would give anyone new to shooting with Lensbaby is to expect a steep learning curve and lots of shots that you will be deleting in the beginning. Know that this is normal and don’t let it put you off, the magic is just around the corner!

Check out more of Janet’s work on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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